Russian authorities pressed hard on Saturday to discover more about the two mysterious widows who brought terror to the heart of Moscow by targeting its famed subway system.
Even as they worked, three militants in the restive southern province of Dagestan opened fire on police officers in a drive-by shooting, killing one and injuring another.
Dagestan - part of Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region - has been the epicentre of a week of violence. A 17-year-old Dagestani girl has been named as one of the two suicide bombers to hit the Moscow subway, killing 40 people and injuring 90 on Monday.
Two other suicide bombers struck on Wednesday near Dagestan’s border with Chechnya, killing 12 people. Another explosion there on Thursday killed two suspected militants.
Dagestan’s Interior Ministry spokesman Vyacheslav Gadzhiyev, told The Associated Press that Saturday’s shooting occurred near the village of Chontaul, 40 miles (70 kilometers) northwest of the provincial capital of Makhachkala.
Russian authorities are fighting an active Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus.
On Friday, a leading Russian newspaper published a photo showing a doe-eyed teenager, partly veiled, in the embrace of a bearded man - both grasping handguns. Russian investigators confirmed that one of the subway attackers was a 17-year-old widow from Dagestan named Dzhanet Abdurakhmanova, but would not say if the photo in the Kommersant newspaper was her.
The newspaper indicated that she may have been out to avenge her husband, Umalat Magomedov, an Islamic militant killed by Russian forces in December.
Kommersant published what it said was a picture of Abdurakhmanova, also known as Abdullayeva, dressed in a black Muslim headscarf and holding a Makarov pistol. Federal investigators said she attacked the Park Kultury subway station near the famous Gorky Park.
Kommersant said the couple met in an Internet chat. Magomedov then set up a meeting and drove her away by force when she was still 16. After her husband’s death, Abdurakhmanova may have fallen under the influence of Islamists, who try to persuade widows and close relatives that they need to sacrifice their lives to avenge their slain husbands, sons and brothers.
The other blast struck the Lubyanka station in central Moscow, beneath the headquarters of the Federal Security Service or FSB, the KGB’s main successor agency. Authorities were still trying to identify the second bomber and track down the organizers of the strike, for which a Chechen militant leader claimed responsibility.
Kommersant said the second subway bomber has been tentatively identified as 20-year-old Markha Ustarkhanova from Chechnya, the widow of a militant leader killed last October while he was preparing to assassinate Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is backed by the Kremlin.
The daily Moskovsky Komsomolets said a burned shred of a letter in Arabic found on Abdurakhmanova’s body promised a “meeting in Heaven.” It was unclear who wrote the letter.
The paper said the two bombers could have been part of a group of some 30 suicide attackers who had been trained in Chechnya.
The subway suicide bombings were the first such attacks in Moscow since 2004.
Also on Friday, President Dmitry Medvedev urged harsher measures to crack down on terrorism, including targeting even people who do simple chores like washing clothes for militants.
However, Russian police and security forces have long been accused of seizing people suspected of aiding militants. Some people have been tortured, and many have disappeared. And rights activists trying to document the abuses have also been killed, kidnapped or threatened.